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What is Early Voting?

Definition and States That Allow the Practice

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Vote sign

A sign instructs Floridians on where to vote in the 2012 primary.

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images News

Early voting allows voters to cast their ballots in person before Election Day. The practice is legal in about two-thirds of the United States. Voters in most states that allow early voting do not need to provide a reason to exercise their right to vote.

Reasons for Early Voting

Early voting makes it more convenient for Americans who may not be able to make it to their polling places on Election Day to cast ballots. The practice is also designed to increase voter participation and reduce problems such as overcrowding at polling places on Election Day.

Criticism of Early Voting

Some political analysts and pundits do not like the idea of early voting because it allows voters to cast their votes before they have all the necessary information about the candidates running for office.

See also: Why Elections Are Held on Tuesdays

There is also evidence that turnout is slightly lower in states that allow early voting. Barry C. Burden and Kenneth R. Mayer, professors of political science at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, wrote in The New York Times in 2010 that early voting "dilutes the intensity of Election Day."

"When a large share of votes is cast well in advance of the first Tuesday in November, campaigns begin to scale back their late efforts. The parties run fewer ads and shift workers to more competitive states. Get-out-the-vote efforts in particular become much less efficient when so many people have already voted."
"When Election Day is merely the end of a long voting period, it lacks the sort of civic stimulation that used to be provided by local news media coverage and discussion around the water cooler. Fewer co-workers will be sporting 'I voted' stickers on their lapels on Election Day. Studies have shown that these informal interactions have a strong effect on turnout, as they generate social pressure. With significant early voting, Election Day can become a kind of afterthought, simply the last day of a drawn-out slog."

How Early Voting Works

Voters who choose to cast their ballots before Election Day in one of the 32 states that allow early voting can do so as far as a month and a half in advance of the November election, according to data compiled by the Early Voting Information Center at Portland, Oregon-based Reed College.

See also: Should Elections be Held on Weekends?

Voters in South Dakota and Idaho, for example, were permitted to vote in Election 2012 beginning on Sept. 21 that year. Early voting in most states ends several days before Election Day.

Early voting often takes place at county elections offices, but is also permitted in some states at schools and libraries.

States That Allow Early Voting

In the United States, 32 states and the District of Columbia allow early voting, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

The states that allow early voting are:

  • Alaska
  • Arizona
  • Arkansas
  • California
  • Colorado
  • Florida
  • Georgia
  • Hawaii
  • Idaho
  • Illinois
  • Indiana
  • Iowa
  • Kansas
  • Louisiana
  • Maine
  • Maryland
  • Montana
  • Nebraska
  • Nevada
  • New Mexico
  • North Carolina
  • North Dakota
  • Ohio
  • Oklahoma
  • South Dakota
  • Tennessee
  • Texas
  • Utah
  • Vermont
  • West Virginia
  • Wisconsin
  • Wyoming

States That Don't Allow Early Voting

The following 18 states do not allow any form of early voting, according to the NCSL:

  • Alabama
  • Connecticut
  • Delaware
  • Kentucky
  • Massachusetts
  • Michigan
  • Minnesota
  • Mississippi
  • Missouri
  • New Hampshire
  • New Jersey
  • New York
  • Oregon
  • Pennsylvania
  • Rhode Island
  • South Carolina
  • Virginia
  • Washington
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